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Neal M. Goldsmith, Ph.D.

Neal M. Goldsmith Ph.D.

Psychology: The Study of the Soul?

Who owns the mind, the psyche, the soul?

Psyche: The Core Concept

Who owns the mind? Is it the believers in spirit, that illusive "thing" that isn't a thing, but somehow resides in the brain . . . or is it the heart? Do scientists own the mind? Those dissectors and understanders who deny something just because they haven't seen it yet?

Before Wilhelm Wundt opened the first experimental psychology laboratory in 1879, there was no academic discipline of psychology separate from philosophy and biology. Perhaps it should have stayed like that for a while longer at least: the study of mind from a physiological perspective as a subfield in biology, and the study of mind from a conceptual perspective as a subfield of philosophy.

Although there are more psychological issues today that can be significantly and reliably treated by a particular psychological approach than there were a hundred years ago, it remains the case that for most psychological complaints, schools of thought or academic orientation are not related to successful treatment. Rather it is similarity of background and values and the creation of a trusting rapport that are most correlated with successful psychotherapy.

Furthermore, for common "neurosis," talk therapy with a skilled practitioner (or even trusted family member) is more effective over the long run than an equivalent-length treatment with any pharmaceutical. Especially since many pharmaceuticals begin to backfire after prolonged use—backfire due to tolerance and side effects, where the benefit begins to be outweighed by the drawbacks.

The current tendency to prescribe a pharmaceutical, simply because it works at first, is mistaken. We must find combinations of treatments that are explicitly chosen to be effective without relapse when the chemical is finally withdrawn.

There is an important role played by healing professionals who fight to stop pathology and the damage it incurs. There is also a huge role to be played by those who try to guide healthy, mature living in order to forestall the advent of pathology, especially pathology caused by lifestyle choices, using harm reduction, not moralizing.

The "psycheology" approach I describe next is mostly oriented toward facilitating and guiding healthy maturation and to a lesser extent toward fighting true pathology, except during emergency circumstances.

"Psycheology": The Study of the Soul

This blog integrates my own evolution into the discussion of using psychedelics for healing. I can illustrate this point by defining a word I've crafted and like to use in my practice, the word "psycheology."

You won't find the word psycheology in any dictionary (I've searched). Rather, it is a made-up word—a neologism (from the Greek: neo meaning "new" and logos meaning "word" or "statement," or meaningful sound, information as patterned energy). Psycheology is a word I created in my effort to reclaim the true, original meaning of the word psychology.

The word psychology comes from the Greek psukhe, meaning "soul," "spirit," "mind," "life," and "breath," combined with the Greek logos, here used as "statement," "expression," and "discourse," more often thought of today in the form of "-ology," as "the study of." Although the academic and clinical discipline of psychology has become a medical—and therefore a pathology-oriented—field, prior to the late 1800s, the study of our inner mental life was the study of our soul, our deepest self or essence.

My purpose in writing this blog is to bring psychologists, my clients, and us all back to psychology as the study of the psyche, to a focus on the ground of our being, to the soul, because that is the earliest, deepest, and most authentic part of us. From a psychotherapeutic perspective, the psyche is the part of us that is the most influential in effecting behavioral change and improving self-esteem.

Not coincidentally, it is also the part of us that we see illuminated during the psychedelic experience, and it is this illumination of our true nature (or the corresponding "death" of our identification with the ego) that accounts for the therapeutic value of the psychedelic experience. This effect is similar to the concept of sympathetic vibration, wherein a still tuning fork brought into contact with a vibrating one will begin to vibrate at the same frequency.

If our conscious attention or identity is brought into contact with or awareness of our deepest ground of being, our conscious awareness elicits or comes into identity with—i.e., becomes—that same deepest sense of self. We are transformed back into identity with the true self we abandoned in our childhood quest for parental love.

To foster this process of re-identification, we must come to view much of behavior now labeled "neurotic" not as pathological, but as the organism's natural response to developmental and environmental stresses on the path to maturation. From this perspective, a "neurosis" is better seen as a developmental challenge—the surmounting of which brings maturity or wisdom—rather than as pathology.

The term neurosis, as generally applied, is not accurate or helpful. In fact, one of the most negative influences on mental health is the "sick" concept itself, which tightens and distorts, keeping us from a natural unfolding and realignment.

In essence, we need to have psychiatrists (doctors who can prescribe medical and nowadays usually pharmacological treatment) treat true, biochemically based behavioral disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia, and return the clinical practice of psychology to the unfolding of the psyche, in all its beauty and complexity, as a non-medical, natural phenomenon.

With the exception of these biologically based illnesses, psychology must come to be seen as the science of spiritual maturity. We call people "neurotic" when, in reality, it's not a medical illness they are suffering from, but spiritual immaturity. We must redefine spirituality, too, not as supernatural, but as simply the natural unfolding toward the wise, mature end of the normal curve of human developmental psychology.

In my practice, I find over and over again that big-picture understanding, active listening, and fundamental positive regard work best. From my perspective, "healing" takes place only when we get underneath our modern imago, persona, or personality, to rest at the ground of our being—to naturally unfold according to our perfect, inner template for development. That process both requires and facilitates the emergence of self-acceptance and will.

The Psycheology Approach to Psychotherapy

To summarize, in their approach to clients, therapists with the psycheology worldview will tend to naturally express many approaches from the following list of philosophies and methods:

  • Psycheology is about the direct experience of the foundation of our true self. I want to emphasize that in psycheology, we are not talking about the personality, but the true, original self—the self we were born as before our parents "had at us." Our true, original self lies under our personality, in the transpersonal ground of our being, at our core.
  • As newborns, we are all perfect. Of course, we all have individual differences at birth, like the wide-ranging forms of trees in the forest, yet we are all "perfect" in our essence.
  • Safety—love—is the central issue of infancy; a lack thereof results in defensive highjacking of the ego function to create a personality as an acquired strategy to attain love.
  • Personality is a strategy devised by an earlier, immature version of our adult self.
  • Neurosis is the natural, stepwise unfolding of human maturation. It's not about pathology, but spiritual immaturity.
  • Empathy and acceptance for our parents and ourselves enables us to relax and release the knot in our psyche, to disidentify with the defensive personality and reidentify with our original, core self—to finally complete our childhood.
  • The desire for change is a reflection of the problem, not the solution. So, working on yourself or your relationships doesn't work. Rather, the only thing to "do" is simply to be; and simply being is not the result of an active pursuit, but rather the natural result of releasing the self from the encumbrance or distraction of immature personality strategy.
  • Transformative developmental change is possible through a stepwise, dualistic dance—a combination of transcendent change that touches the soul, reaches forward, and cathartic change that removes unconscious chains, releases the past.
  • Psychedelic therapy can be a safe and extremely effective tool in facilitating transformative developmental change by enabling us to see ourselves with love and to safely engage in catharsis. Stunted or skewed development can be gotten back on track, but psychedelics are not cognitive development—or enlightenment—in a pill. Psychedelics can trigger insight, but behavior change takes time, and in this culture, such realignment is often harder to sustain than we acknowledge.
  • Effective methods exist for changing policies and bureaucracies, and we are honor-bound to bravely apply them in the pursuit of science, truth, and freedom.
  • Having laid out these key lessons, as good global citizens, we are compelled to actively apply these findings, to improve the world.
  • It's important, too, for us to speculate about the future of psychedelic therapy and policy—and whether the re-integration of psychedelics into Western Civilization could provide a rite of passage for our culture as a whole, healing Cartesian duality, and elevating us to a new, integral level of society.

The psycheology approach to healthy human development is yogic and ayurvedic: seen as a perfect, healthy developmental process of maturation. Psycheology approaches the human organism as a single whole seen sometimes as body, sometimes as mind, sometimes as spirit, but most effectively approached as the integral of all three.

This blog post was edited from Psychedelic Healing: The Promise of Entheogens for Psychotherapy and Spiritual Development (Inner Traditions, 2011), by Neal M. Goldsmith, Ph.D.


About the Author

Neal M. Goldsmith, Ph.D.

Neal M. Goldsmith, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist specializing in psychospiritual development. He speaks on personality, psychotherapy and change, and the emergence of an integral society.